Michael Moriarty: an excellent job on the Haughey module

The case for...

1. It has started. So it must finish...

While it is dangerous to enter into a comparison with the toxic bank Anglo Irish, an argument can be made that the Moriarty tribunal is also "too big to fail".

It is 'too big' in terms of the amount of taxpayers' money that has already been spent on it. So surely, it would make little sense to call a halt to it now.

It has gone on for 13 years and it is expected to cost in excess of €200m. As it has come this far now, there is no point in stopping.

The painful reality for us all is that even though we may be disgusted at the costs associated with Moriarty and other tribunals, there is no alternative to allowing it finish off its business.

2. We need the full story

In the current economic crisis we have all become accustomed to dealing with billions rather than millions.

So with hindsight, it may be easy to lose sight of the fact that the awarding of the second mobile phone licence to the Esat Digifone consortium in 1996 was actually the biggest contract ever awarded by the state to a private company.

Part of the reason why the tribunal was set up was to investigate whether businessman Denis O'Brien gave any money to the former Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications, Michael Lowry, prior to the awarding of the licence to Esat Digifone. The tribunal was set up to investigate if any corrupt payments were made between the two and so far it has not uncovered the full story as to what happened. Whether the tribunal is to determine that corrupt payments were or were not made to the tribunal, it has to be allowed to uncover the real story.

3. We are on the home straight

The Moriarty tribunal has been a 13-year-long marathon, unlike the Dirt Tax Inquiry which was a 14-month sprint.

The pain barrier posed by the Moriarty tribunal has not been easy on any of us but we are on the home straight. Even if there are more witnesses called to the tribunal, it is not expected that it will take long for their evidence to be heard and afterwards it is just a matter of Judge Moriarty compiling his report.

4. Judge Michael Moriarty

Amidst the tribunal's current difficulties it is easy to lose sight of the way Moriarty did an excellent job on the Haughey module. He deserves to be given the time to complete the work on the probe into the awarding of the state's mobile phone licence.

5. It's all relative

It seems crazy that tribunal lawyers were being paid in excess of €2,000 a day. But if you were to look at the costs incurred in the day to day running of each of the 15 government departments, there is equally as much crazy expenditure of taxpayers' money.

The case against...

1. Its final report seems too long a time coming

It's been going on for an eye-watering 13 years, and it's far from clear that the end is in sight. There are numerous legal challenges pending and it's two years since the tribunal first issued preliminary findings relating to its final report. Some of those findings will certainly now have to be amended following developments throughout this year. This track record suggests that hopes that a final report will happen soon – now that Danish consultant Michael Andersen has completed his evidence – are likely to prove overly optimistic. We've heard it too many times before.

2. Mistakes were made

The tribunal chairman Michael Moriarty has admitted to making two not insignificant errors. The first was when he said in February 2008 that the attorney general had confirmed in writing that the legal advice given to the Department of Communications by senior counsel Richard Nesbitt in 1996, just prior to the formal awarding of the second mobile phone licence, did not address the change of ownership in the winning consortium.

It subsequently emerged that the attorney general's office wrote to the tribunal on at least seven occasions saying there was no such letter. The second was not circulating the memo on a pivotal 2002 meeting between the tribunal's legal team and the officials from the attorney general's office.

3. The cost continues to rise in millions

The tribunal is continuing to rack up big costs. Its cost to date is €43.5m – including over €25m to its three senior counsel – but the final bill for is likely to top €200m once third party fees are factored in. Based on recent figures, the average monthly cost of the tribunal's legal team and administration expenses is running at €300,000. If as yet unknown third party costs are factored in, that monthly aver­age could be as high as €1.5m.

4. Damaged reputation

The evidence of Michael Andersen, the lead consultant to the 1995 mobile phone licence competition – has been hugely damaging. Andersen has said it was his firm belief that the inquiry has been biased since soon after it began investigating the matter at hand. He spoke of meetings he had with members of the legal team where he detected hostility. Andersen believes the tribunal had a "predefined theory" when carrying out its inquiry and that he believed the theory was based on assumptions that were wrong. He says the bid from Esat Digifone, which won the licence competition, was one of the best he had ever seen. There was "a consistency of error" emanating from the tribunal, he said.

5. Political confidence

They mightn't say it publicly but the Oireachtas, which set up the Tribunal, no longer has confidence in it – see poll on page 25.